News From The Woods.44

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published December 1, 2000


"It's Sooooooooooooo Easy! Not!"


With all this talk about "The future of music distribution is here!" you'd think it would be easy to get your own music heard on the Internet. Well, think again, Napster Breath! Everybody and their dog has a website now and it's just as hard getting attention now as it was before the World Wide Web. A scant five years ago, in order to get your music out to the public, you had to make some kind of connection with a major record company. Only the majors had the manpower, money, and clout to promote, market, and distribute a new artist. Of course that connection came with a price (a percentage, actually) . You had to have lawyers, managers, publishing agents, booking agents……. All those ducks had to be lined up before they would crank up the "promotion machine". And after giving 20% here, 15% there, 5 points over there, the artist winds up with only a small share of the gross revenue. Did I mention mechanical royalties, performance royalties, and gross pontential over "X" units sold within "X" time period? All these things are just about as foreign to a creative type musician as a n open "E" tuning to a beancounter.

Now enters the Internet. In the short space of time - about three years - it took for the Internet to become practically indespensible to the public, the "free exchange" of music files on the Internet has snowballed into the proverbial three-headed, fire-breathing dragon. It started simply and innocently enough. First, some artists and musicians created their own websites to promote their music. They had images, bios, and even tour dates available to all. Some even experimented with posting .WAV files but soon leanred that 19.2 and 33.6 modems would take a half day to download a song file. Not worth it. Then someone started introducing compression software to squuueeeeeze those files down to a more manageable size. Faster modems were introduced to a hungry marketplace and at a lower price than ever before. Hard drives got cheaper and cheaper by the quarter. Real Networks released FREE RealAudio compression format. Finally MP3 reared it's ugly head. Here was a really good compression format which reduced huge WAV files to manageable MP3 files which could be downloaded in mere minutes on a 56K modem. The a bright college kid came up with the idea of Napster, and now, only a scant couple of years later, huge corporations and record companies are poised to topple under their own weight because you and I can now instantly access literally millions of MP3 files in less than 15 seconds from all over the world, locating JUST the very song or artist you are searching for. And guess what? One click and ten minutes later that very song is residing on your own hard drive, ready to be played anytime you summon it. And guess what else? The guy that wrote that song won't see one red cent! He won't even know you got it in the first place. Neither will his publisher or his record company. The dragon roars and artists fall like so much fresh cut grass. I'm not going to go on a rant about this right now, but I case you've been living in a cave for the past six months and want to learn more, go here. But come back!

On the more legitimate side of the music distribution and PR game on the Internet, there are hundreds of websites that advertise and promote bands, artists, songwriters, independent record companies, and songs…. All for free (well, sort of). Many of them depend on banner ads to bring in income based on the number of hits each site receives. The more hits a site gets, the more money they can charge for their banner ad space. To use the analogy of the Internet being the Information Super Highway - think of banner ads as Burma Shave signs posted every sixth fence post. Annoying and sometimes cute, but necessary for the host site to stay online. Each music site has it's own personality, look, and approach in which to lure the artist/band/songwriter to adding to the database. Among the biggest sites online today are IUMA (The Internet Underground Music Archives), MP3, and Riffage. Of course they are all dot-com's. Other websites I frequent are TuneVault, Artist Forum, Virtual Tunes Music, Mpulse, Fishtank Soundworks, Kanoodle, and Sonic Fish. I'm not sure what the "fish theme" thing is all about but perhaps I can look into that in a future column.

You might ask "Why have a web presence on so many sites? Why not just concentrate on one site?" Well, hopefully no one reading this article would wonder that or you're hopelessly lost. It figures that the more Burma Shave signs you have posted the better your chances are of snagging a new customer. And, since all these sites basically offer FREE site hosting….. why not? I have my own page on every site I mentioned in the above paragraph. I put a little bit different content on each site. I also have a link on each of those pages which will direct the web surfer to my home page, where I have the Mother of All Websites dedicated to my CD release, "New Tricks From An Old Dog". Some of these sites will even sell your product for you (for a percentage, of course) and this, too, can be a good thing if you are not equipped to sell over the Internet by credit card. The site will do all the work for you. All you do is send them, for instance, 5 copies of your CD, cassette, even T-Shirts and baseball hats, to the host site and they sell them online for you. They clear the credit card approval and transactions and send out your product to that girl in Guam who just heard your song and wants to buy the album using daddy's VISA card. At the appointed interval (usually quarterly) the host site sends you a check for the sale, less their percentage, usually around 15%. Not a bad deal.

Easy, right? Well, not exactly. First, someone will have to access each website and literally create your personal page for surfers to look at. Each site has their own template. You just sort of "fill in the blanks", and it DOES take some time. Sometimes it takes LOTS of time. Some sites are easier to navigate through than others. They usually ask for pertinent artist info (bios, song descriptions, lyrics, images, etc.) which will take some time to fill out, not to mention access to a computer and some Internet savvy. A few sites do not post song files but will allow you to post links which then take the surfer to a place where the file can be downloaded or streamed (like your own personal website). Other sites, like TuneVault, will list the complete contents of your album but instead of having to upload all those song files to their server, they just provide hyperlinks which will access your own server for the tune without ever leaving the TuneVault site. Pretty nifty idea. But most of the popular sites maintain their own server site where copies of your song reside for downloading or streaming. Here's where it gets even more complicated. Since there are several formats of audio most sites will want you to upload an MP3 version AND a RealAudio version. RealAudio streams much faster so there is literally NO waiting before the listener can audition the track. If they like it, then they can download the MP3 which takes much longer to download but sounds much better.

Another problem associated with maintaining multiple sites is that it takes quite a bit of time on your part to keep up with it all. There are ID codes, passwords, and log-in names to remember and keep track of. With all the competition, sites keep changing their look to keep it fresh. Sometimes when they do a changeover the URL changes and you have to keep updating your links. Sites with heavy traffic tend to run slowly at peak times and make it more difficult to navigate. In short, it ain't no walk in the park!

Hopefully, these sites will catch on and streamline their operation of acquiring data from artists to make it a bit more user friendly. But - I guess it'll be like many other things…. If it was TOO easy then everybody would be doing it.

Wasn't that the general idea?


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